'Freedom' for Greek beachgoers – under drone's watchful eye - and restricted to 40 people per 1,000 square metres.
In the midst of their first heatwave of the year, thousands of Greeks were released on to the Athenian Riviera this weekend to do what everyone had been gagging to do for ages. They were not disappointed.
“Life! Freedom! A breath of fresh air,” enthused Maria, a retired bank worker, relishing the scene with her friend Danae. “Relief,” said Danae, sitting up and raising her arms to the sky. “At long last, a big psychological relief.”
But this new freedom is now measured in metres. Couples lounged on sunbeds at a 10 metre distance from their fellow bathers under the watchful eye of a town hall employee and, for extra surveillance, guiding a drone over the beach on a mission to detect congested danger zones, broadcasting the robotic message “we keep our distance, we respect public health”, reports the Australian edition of The Guardian.
As a further measure, municipal police and guards (no doubt disgruntles that they weren't wearing their bathing suits) wended their way along the shore, urging beachgoers to respect the rules or risk being fined.
“It’s a venture into the unknown, a different world,” said Giorgos Papanicolaou, the mayor of Glyfada, whose municipality runs the long stretch of public beach south of Athens’ city centre. “But it’s gone better than expected. Children are a bit more difficult to control but so far there haven’t been any penalties.”
With unseasonably high temperatures prompting fears of uncontrollable numbers descending on the riviera, Papanicolaou led calls by locals mayors last week for the government to open up “organised” fee-paying beaches along the Attica coast. On Friday, in what was seen as a crucial test for tourism, the centre-right administration agreed that 515 beaches could resume business on condition that strict rules were adhered to.
At 8am on Saturday beach clubs duly opened, without music, alcohol or sports facilities that might encourage social interaction. It's not known whether any of the ladies were wearing a trikini - bikini plus matching face mask - despite OGN Daily's prediction that it would be this summer's beachwear of choice.
With each changeover, sunbeds – some chained to canopies to ensure social distancing – were disinfected.
Only 40 people per 1,000 sq metres were permitted on any of the beaches at any one time.
Across southern Europe, tourism’s salvation is crucial. A fifth of the Greek workforce – more than a million people – are employed in the industry.
Let's hope we can all fly off to join them soon.